Can There Be Too Much Shakespeare?

Honestly I never thought I’d ask this question.  Part of the life of this blog has been spotting every random tv commercial and sitcom that decides to mix in a Shakespeare storyline (hello, Cosby show…) and, in general, we come away with a “Hey, any exposure to Shakespeare is a good thing” feeling.


But lately I wonder.  I’ve been reading the Giver series with my daughter lately. There’s a scene in one of the later books where two children, both poor children in impoverished communities who were never given the chance to read, grow up in different villages.  Both learn to read independently.  When they meet up again after several years, the boy shouts, “I can read Shakespeare!” and the girl shouts back, “Me too!’

Come on, the author’s not even trying there.  I think I’d like to see Shakespeare’s name invoked for a reason beyond just some generic “I’m smart now” measuring stick.

“Hey, see that 6 year old over there, he’s really smart.”
  “Really, how smart?”
“Oh, he reads Shakespeare.”
  “Wow, that is smart!”

It’s not really all that different from an episode of Cosby where Theo and his buddy don’t want to do their homework, so they try to skip out on Julius Caesar by getting the Cliff Notes.  The difference comes in the fact that the episode in question was full of the text, as well as Christopher freakin Plummer doing a guest spot pretty much solely so he could do some Shakespeare.

In The Giver books I see no use of Shakespeare other than the aforementioned “Look how smart I am” checkbox.  Yes there’s a quote about Macbeth, but it’s thrown in so randomly that I can barely tell you which quote (something from Lady M, I believe) or even where it came up.

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2 thoughts on “Can There Be Too Much Shakespeare?

  1. "…and, in general, we come away with a "Hey, any exposure to Shakespeare is a good thing" feeling."

    –And, as you know, I've always been ready to argue this point with you. As with anything, the quality of the exposure has a great deal to do with its potential merits.

    In this case though, I see absolutely nothing wrong with kids being proud–even in and of itself– about knowing something about Shakespeare. As a matter of fact, I make it part of my job to see that children do achieve a great sense of accomplishment and pride in their knowledge and ability re: Shakespeare, no matter how rudimentary it may seem to others. This is what can spur them to further investigation. It's what I do.

  2. "…and, in general, we come away with a "Hey, any exposure to Shakespeare is a good thing" feeling."

    –And, as you know, I've always been ready to argue this point with you. As with anything, the quality of the exposure has a great deal to do with its potential merits.

    In this case though, I see absolutely nothing wrong with kids being proud–even in and of itself– about knowing something about Shakespeare. As a matter of fact, I make it part of my job to see that children do achieve a great sense of accomplishment and pride in their knowledge and ability re: Shakespeare, no matter how rudimentary it may seem to others. This is what can spur them to further investigation. It's what I do.

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